« PreviousContinue »
calibre. At this point, too, a chain had been stretched across the river; it was sustained upon eight hulks, the intervals between them permitting driftwood to pass. From each hulk a spar trailed astern, so that boats could not easily pass from one to another. A fleet of thirteen armed steamers, the steam-battery Louisiana, of sixteen guns, and the ram Manassas, constituted the chief defense afloat; but, in addition, several rafts and fire-ships had been provided. Lovell had applied to the governor of the state for a re-enforcement of 10,000 men, but it was found impossible to spare him more than 3000 in addition to those he had, so many having been sent to the armies in the Border States.
On the 8th of April the national fleet, consisting of four sloops of war, seventeen 'gun-boats, twenty-one bomb
schooners, and two sailing-vessels, but having no ironclads, had, after great labor, been carried over the bar. The Brooklyn had been forcibly dragged through the mud of the Southwest Pass. Since the blockade the water had been becoming shoaler because of the non-passage of vessels, and at this time there were but fifteen feet at the shallowest part of the channel.
The intended plan of operations was for Porter to bombard the forts, and if he failed to reduce them, Farragut was to attempt to run past them. That succeeding, Butler was to land his troops in the rear of St. Philip, and carry it by assault.
Farragut's plan of attack.
FARRAGUT'S PLAN OF ATTACK.
For eight miles below Fort Jackson the south bank of the river has a skirt of woods, the trees being thickly interlaced with vines. Through this an opening had been cut by the Confederates to permit their guns to have Arrangement of the range on ascending vessels. Under the screen of these woods fourteen of the mortar vessels were placed, the remainder being on the other side of the river. It being found, however, that the latter were too much exposed, they also were brought over under the covert of the woods. For more effectual concealment, the masts of all the vessels were dressed with leafy
branches. Careful surveys were made, so that the bombs might be thrown with accuracy, though the forts could not be seen. The chief uncertainty then arose from the variable pressure of the wind on the projectiles in their flight.
BOMBARDMENT OF THE FORTS.
On the 17th of April the Confederates sent down a fire-raft with the intention of burning the ships, which lay about four miles below. This and others which fol lowed were, however, easily towed by the national sailors out of the way, and did no harm. On the followBombardment of ing morning the bombardment commenced. During that day 1400 shells were thrown. This was continued with but slight interruption during six days and nights. Notwithstanding the assurances of the commandant that "God was certainly protecting them," the garrisons became very much demoralized. In Fort Jackson the barracks had been set on fire soon after the bombardment opened. Its guns were repeatedly silenced. As many of the shells burst in the air, owing to the badness of the fuses, the fuses were put in full length, to delay the explosion until the shells had entered the ground. They "penetrated into it eighteen or twenty feet, and, exploding after a time, lifted the earth up, and let it fall back into its place again, demoralizing the men, who knew not what the consequences were going to be. The effect was like that of an earthquake." The return fire from the forts was, however, at times, very severe; shot and rifle shell came crashing through the woods, tearing trees up by the roots. The bombardment went steadily on, fifteen hundred bombs being thrown at the forts every twenty-four hours. "Overcome with fatigue, the commanders and crews of the bomb-vessels might be seen ly. ing fast asleep on deck, with a mortar on board the vessel next to them thundering away. The windows were broken at the Balize, thirty miles distant." Fish, stunned by the explosions, were floating about in all directions.
PREPARATIONS FOR PASSING THE FORTS.
On the third day of the bombardment Farragut held a Farragut resolves council. He determined to cut the barricade, to pass the forts. and carry the fleet past the forts to New Orleans. Two gun-boats went up in the darkness of the ensuing night to break the obstruction. One of them attempted, but unsuccessfully, to blow up a hulk by means Cutting of the chain of a petard. The other, more successful, boarded the central hulk. A rocket from Fort Jackson revealed what was going forward, and fire was opened on them, but, with a cold chisel and hammer, the chain was cut. The current at once swept aside the gun-boat and the hulk, which had been lashed together. After much difficulty the former was extricated, and, favored by the darkness, returned with her consort safely to the fleet.
Preparations for the passage were now made. Five ships and twelve gun-boats, carrying nearly 300 guns, were arranged in two columns:
The order of battle.
2d Division of Gun-boats.
1st Division of Gun-boats.
The ships of the left column, led by Farragut, were to attack Fort Jackson; the second division of gun-boats in that column was to keep the middle of the river, disre gard the forts, and attack the Confederate fleet above. The right column, under Bailey, was to attack Fort St. Philip. Six small steamers, belonging to Porter's flotilla,
2d Division of Ships.
were to silence the water battery below Fort Jackson, but not to pass it.
THE BATTLE OF THE MISSISSIPPI,
Each ship was got ready for battle. The chain cables The ships prepared were looped over the sides in two layers, to for action. give an iron-clad protection. The decks and gun-carriages of some were whitewashed-an expedient that was found to be of very great service in making things visible at night. Bags of sand, Bags of sand, coal, and other suitable materials were so placed as to protect the engines.
At five minutes before two o'clock in the morning of the 24th of April two red lights were hung
out. It was the signal to go into action. In little more than an hour the fleet was all fairly under way. Porter's mortar-boats redoubled their fire, and made the air alive with shells. Care had been previ ously taken to get accurate range for them. They kept up their work with unceasing vigor until after the last vessels of Farragut's columns were in the heat of the battle. The night was very close, hazy, and dark; the smoke of the cannonading lay heavily on the river. A rain of bombs was falling into the forts.
Dark as it was, every ship, spar, and rope soon became visible-visible through the smoke in the red light of the battle. The waning crescent of the moon rose just at the time that Farragut was going into action.
Struggling against the current of the river, Farragut Passage of Farragut carried his ship, the Hartford, safely through in his flag-ship. the broken chain. Both the forts were firing on him. He reserved his guns for fifteen minutes, until he could bear fairly on Fort Jackson; then he poured forth such broadsides of grape and canister that nothing living could stand before them. The cannoniers in the fort fled from their guns. The Confederate ram Manassas, which had been hidden from sight by the smoke,
Signal for the attack.